He put a hand up my skirt.

It was my first year at college. I had made friends with a really great girl, Chloe. She was funny. The kind of funny that matched my kind of funny and together we would riff for hours. She was also fat. I had been slowly gaining weight since I was 15. A mixture of being moved to a cold (in both weather and hospitality) new home and the lack of friends. Food became my friend. All food. Except anything green or healthy. If it was fried or sugary, I was eating it.

I had done my best to cover up my expanding waistline with large t-shirts that hid my low self esteem and my muffin top.

Chloe, when I first met her, was wearing a tight t-shirt and jeans. Her muffin top spilling out, filling the space between. I couldn’t help but stare at it. She must have caught me looking because she made a quick quip about her size, one that had us all laughing. Suddenly I was intrigued.

She wasn’t shying away from her size, but flaunting it. Something I had never encountered (up until this point my friends had all been of the size 2 and under variety. I was the ‘larger than life funny so you don’t notice my size’ sidekick.).

Even though she was larger than I was, she looked great and dressed nicely. It was an eye opener.

I had been a “good girl” in high school. Partly due to my nature (a bookworm at heart and a homebody for sure) and partly due to the fact that my chubby-ness didn’t exactly make me desirable for any of the ‘cool kids’ parties.

Perhaps it’s actually a blessing in disguise that I was fat. It kept me out of trouble. Being fat didn’t stop Chloe from doing (or wearing) anything

Chloe had an identical twin sister, a slightly venomous version of the sweet Chloe I had come to love. She was callous with a face like thunder and quick to judge. She resented me immediately. Be it for my “posh” accent or for the fact that her twin liked me. I once overheard Chloe trying to persuade Claudia to ‘give me a chance’.

The twins liked to drink. Both could drink any man under the table, a feat they engaged in regularly. One that was both impressive and sad to witness.

Claudia was aimless with little to no clue about what she wanted out of life. Claudia’s interests were drink, clubs and men who treated her like shit.

I never felt safe around Claudia. A feeling of walking on eggshells while wondering if she was possibly going to ‘deck me’ followed me constantly. She touted herself as honest. Read honest as being rude and hurtful.

Eventually she warmed to me. I think. We began a semi friendship that was really more about our mutual desire to hang out with Chloe.

Chloe enjoyed the club scene too. My pleas of “Let’s stay in and be silly’ were met with disregard. She once admitted she had a deep-rooted fear of missing out. On what? Another night of pissing away your money with seedy men in rank smelling clubs? Well, Yeah.

I would go with them, if I didn’t I’d be left out. Who wants to be left out when you’re in college? Chloe was my new friend, she had inspired me to accept my body and we had connected in a deep way through our humor. I wanted to be her best friend, and that meant going out at night.

Being in the clubs scared me. The dark sweaty rooms, the pounding of the base that made my chest ache and my stomach feel nauseous. I was a virgin. Terrified that somehow I would be deflowered and taken advantage of while roaming the dance floor.

I was to a certain extent.

Men would put their hands on me. Unwelcomed and out of nowhere. Sometimes they would grab my arm, reach out and pull me towards them. Occasionally they would slip their hands up my skirt. A fleeting but terrifying moment and one that I would be quick to react to.

Spinning around and confronting the perpetrator – desperate to have some quip, some way to discipline them and put them in their place.

My fury would be mocked, “What are you gonna do darling?” “Your legs would make a lovely scarf” “Smile love – it might never happen”

It just did.

Engaging with them made no difference.

On one such occasion, as I felt an unwanted rough hand slip up my skirt, I spun around and deftly grab the offenders crotch. I was nearly as surprised as he was and immediately regretted my decision. It was squidgy and the sweaty denim between my hand and his penis was not enough protection. But I had to follow through – I grabbed it hard, got up in his face and proclaimed “How do you like it?” He was a little shocked, and didn’t quite know what to do. His friends, noticing what was happening were quick to back him up and suddenly I was the one being victimized again. By trying to show him the same disrespect, I brought even more on myself. At least that’s how it felt.

After his sad pathetic excuse for friends started cat calling I quickly escaped to the bathroom. To wash my hands and find sanctuary.

I felt unbelievably dirty, ashamed and alone. I felt that way even without my retaliation, but somehow trying to stand up for myself, regardless of whether it was a stupid tactic, had made me feel worse.

I wanted my friends to care, to be equally disgusted and appalled, but they never were. Not in the same way.

They actively chose to surround themselves with men who treated them like objects (worse than objects really, like trash) and they protested they loved it.

Ophelia? Is that you?

After experiencing several nights of these men in clubs, watching my friends be disrespected and degraded and seeing them beg for more, I was done.

I could no longer participate.

I sought out a friend, one who didn’t live in Halls of Residence and I escaped. I packed a bag and stayed at hers for a good two weeks. I told no one where I was going, didn’t leave a note. Nothing. I just disappeared.

This was perhaps one of the most rebellious acts I had ever committed (apart from one other thing, but that’s another story).

I could practically taste the delicious worrying texts and calls I would receive. Perhaps I wouldn’t even respond right away. Let them worry for a little while, then I would reveal where I was. I practiced my nonchalant responses “Oh I’m so sorry you were worried. You know me; I’m just on a whim, going where life takes me. I’ll be back when I’m back. Don’t wait up.”

I wanted them to miss me, to be concerned. To realize that their club/men obsession was nothing compared to friendship and if I were to come back, we could hang in our rooms, laughing and having fun.

After 3 days…nothing. I thought for sure they would check on me. Text, call, make sure I wasn’t chopped up into little pieces and dumped in a ditch.

Nada.

For 2 weeks none of them knew where I was, and not one of them cared.

When I came back, and questioned them “We just assumed you were fine” “But but…” I stammered, “…didn’t you think to check? Were you not a little concerned? If you were gone for a night and I didn’t know, I’d check up on you!”

“Well…” Chloe sighed as she fixed her hair, “We’re different people”.

She shimmied her top down to expose maximum cleavage, checked her make up one last time and headed out into the night.

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